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Heathen’s Progress

This category contains 26 posts

A Heathen Manifesto

This manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism’s involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all […]

Reflections on the end of Heathen’s Progress

Six months ago, when I started this series, I intended it as a search for ways out of the quagmire that I felt the atheism versus religion debate had sunk into. I was particularly keen to reposition atheism, to move away from the focus on hostile attacks on religious metaphysics and more towards a positive, […]

The coalition of the reasonable

There are two equal and opposite pathologies of the common ground. One is the refusal to share any, to maintain clear divisions between yourself and those you disagree with. The other is to pretend or imagine people have more in common with you than they do, latching on to any kind of similarity as evidence […]

Yes, life without God can be bleak

Stressing the jolly side of atheism not only glosses over its harsher truths, it also disguises its unique selling point. The reason to be an atheist is not that it makes us feel better or gives us a more rewarding life. The reason to be an atheist is simply that there is no God and […]

Why do the religious insist on presenting a united front?

For all their aspirations for transcendent truth and higher purpose, religions behave like any other worldly individual or organisation and end up doing what protects their secular interests, not what most aligns with their values. Latest in the Guardian Comment is Free Belief series

Being tone deaf to religion does matter

Atheists often protest that their critics are more likely to criticise the tone of their arguments than their substance. Accusing someone of being aggressive, nasty or shrill can be a neat way of avoiding the meat of the matter while also appearing to occupy the moral high ground. That’s true, but tone does matter, and […]

The meaning of secular neutrality

The “neutrality” of a secular society is of a very limited and specific sort, and that is precisely its strength. Being clear about the nature and limits of this impartiality is essential if we are to make the case that political secularism isn’t just a vehicle for ever more social secularisation. Latest in the Guardian […]

Can a religion survive being stripped of superstition?

There is no escaping the fact that Buddhism is, as the philosopher Owen Flanagan put it, full of “superstitious nonsense” and “hocus pocus”. Yet Flanagan has written a brilliant book in which he asks the question of what we have left if Buddhism is stripped of its supernatural elements, “naturalised, tamed, and made compatible with […]

Heathen’s Progress 18: Family therapy for religion

What makes different institutions, beliefs and so on all religions is not that they have the same essence, but that they share what Wittgenstein called a “family resemblance”. And just like family noses, I think we can describe what some of these resemblances are. At risk of complicating the metaphor, we can see the family […]

Heathen’s Progress 17: The modern believer is not suspicious enough

I’m afraid it’s all too common for defenders of faith to start off by piling up a whole load of interesting scientific findings, only to follow up with a plethora of non sequiturs. The question rightly asked is how reliable are the various cognitive mechanisms we use for establishing different kinds of truth? And there […]